Sunday, April 17, 2011

Uncanny X-men #534.1 - Kieron Gillen's Inaugural Awesome

Ever since I started this blog, I've always relied on making a certain number of dick and boob jokes whenever a new issue of Uncanny X-men came along. This is because Matt Fraction has held the pen that controls the course of this classic series. In every review I would always take some time to rant about the issues with his style that never seem to go away. I could spend a certain amount of time bitching about how he's watered down Emma Frost to the point that she's a glorified barbie-doll that Greg Land can use porn stars as a tracer. I've could spend just as much time bitching about how his characterization has the depth of Hugh Hefner's tastes in women. Then I could spend several more paragraphs going on about how Fraction makes up for these shortcomings by stepping up the scale of his stories in a way that only an professional sumo wrestler can appreciate. Now I can't do that anymore because Matt Fraction has left Uncanny X-men and handed it over to the likes of Kieron Gillen.

Now Gillen has been officially co-writing Uncanny X-men for the last few issues, but the book still retrained the distinct style of Matt Fraction. If you picked up Uncanny X-men #533 you could tell it was a Matt Fraction book and it wasn't just because all the women had the same bra size. His style is pretty distinct so it was hard to pick Gillen's influence out from scenes of Cyclops being all Tom Brady with the X-men and Namor looking like he's perpetually constipated. He's been basically given readers a preview of what he can do in Generation Hope, which is a lot like Uncanny X-men-lite but with new characters and a lousy replacement character that's meant to placate angry Jean Grey fans. He's shown genuine talent and a solid feel for the characters. I've given Gillen's writing some high marks so now the time has come for him to take the equivalent of his commanders test at Star Fleet. He must write Uncanny X-men without the aid of Matt Fraction's cartoony influence. I'm sure he's as nervous as I was the first time I tried to score some weed.

Gillen's first issue of Uncanny X-men is technically not the immediate follow-up to the previous issue. He gets to test his new Ferrari in one of Marvel's Point One issues. Now anybody who has kept up with the whole Point One understands one of two things. First, it shows that few working at Marvel passed eight grade math. Second, it's marketed as a jumping on point for new readers. So if by chance you came down with Bieber fever or just woke up from a drug-induced coma, you could use these books to catch up. Well for the most part, these titles have been less like jumping on points and more like shameless excuses to solicit another book with a familiar brand. It's not shameless in the sense that walking around with your fly unzipped and declaring it a fashion statement is shameless. It's still pretty shameless. So don't expect Uncanny X-men #534.1 to explain everything that's happened since the Chuck Austin run was forcibly purged from the memories of X-men fans. However, it does finally point out the giant pink elephant in the room that's been shitting on the floor for the past year or so and Kieron Gillen is finally addressing it.

That giant shitting elephant is Magneto. Yes, the guy who used to fantasize about boiling the X-men in a giant pot and stuffing them in a Turducken for Thanksgiving is part of the X-men now. Seeing as how the X-men aren't exactly secretive and have their own fucking island off the coast of San Francisco (long story that would take another point one issue to explain) they have to explain to the people they're trying to help why Mr. Mutants-Should-Enslave-Humans-And-Use-Them-As-Condoms-To-Screw-Them-Over is part of the team. To do that, the X-men put that burden on their newly hired PR firm. Yes, you read that correctly. The X-men hired a PR firm to improve their image. It happened a few issues ago. No, I'm not high...for the most part. It's not the craziest thing the X-men ever did. If anything, it's overly logical. Just go with it for now. I have other shit to rant about.

The Galactus-sized task of explaining Magneto's presence to a city already wary of what goes on in dark alleys of the Castro District falls on Kate Kildare. Now with a name like that you would think she's someone who used to clean guns with Black Widow and that's not a dick joke. But no, she's a daring Public Relations agent on her way to Utopia to interview Magneto. That has to be right up there with trying to get Kanye West to donate money to Bristol Palin's abstinence initiative.

She arrives on Utopia where she's greeted by Cyclops and Emma. Cyclops basically explains that they've been keeping Magneto's presence quiet, sort of like a Congressmen's sex scandal minus the glory holes in airport bathroom stalls. Now this is a bit of a problem because in earlier books Magneto did show his face in public as the X-men helped rebuild San Francisco after Second Coming. In an era of youtube and Facebook where the sight of every nipple slip is documented, you would think this would have come up sooner. Well it hasn't really been addressed so it's good they're finally getting around to it. But Cyclops makes it sound as though nobody has busted their balls for it and even for the Marvel universe that's pushing it.

In addition to the PR angle, the X-men are still in engaged in good old fashioned heroics. The Mayor of San Francisco, who has become the X-men's BFF since they moved there (again, another long story), finds out the fine assholes of AIM are extorting California's businesses by threatening to cause an Earthquake. Even in a state run by the fucking Terminator, that kind of corruption is pretty sick. So instead of whining to the Avengers, the mayor calls the X-men. There's only so much PR can do. Saving everybody's asses from guys who dress up in hazmat suits and take orders from a giant head (not unlike Donald Trump) goes a lot further.

While AIM is poised to get the anime porn treatment with a mutant cock, Kate is starting her interview with Magneto. Not since a newly appointed gynecologist gave Joan Rivers an exam has someone looked so uncomfortable. Magneto even brought some props, namely a fragment from Breakworld that he took from the bullet he recovered (see Uncanny X-men #522). He's been carrying it around the same way Paris Hilton carries her dogs in her purse. Kate thinks him stopping it could be a good way to start. Magneto is only mildly impressed, looking like that creepy old man who stays in the panties section of Wal Mart for two hours too long. That or he's looking down her dress.

So Kate tries to focus on making Magneto less scary. That's like trying to promote tourism in North Korea. She pushed the idea that the world has changed. Mutants are more accepted now then they were when Magneto was claiming that humans needed to make like Brett Favre and retire already. She wants to put him across as something the public can digest without getting diarrhea. But Magneto doesn't care of he's liked. He prefers to be feared. Well that's all well and good until Kate brings up his attack on New York, which happened all the way back in New X-men during George W. Bush's first term. It's that other elephant in the room that's been humping the smaller elephant. No one has brought it up since Magneto returned so like a library book that's amounted a thousand dollars in late fees, it's way overdue.

As for the other impossible mission going on at the moment, the X-men have been searching for AIM. They only find them by sicking Namor on them. Yeah, that's another thing that's hard to address. Namor is with the X-men now. But don't worry. He's still as arrogant and badass as ever. He's able to locate two AIM agents who just got done bribing a local California business. Now they've lost their ride and by that I mean Namor blew up their fucking plane. It's probably the sixth least painful way he could have handled it and now AIM has to start running or shitting themselves or both.

Now about that attack on New York...well, Magneto is very coy about it. Coy in the same sense that Brett Michaels is coy about all the women he's boned. He brushes the New York attack off as being done by an impostor. Sort of like how Pam Anderson's tits are impostors. However, he makes it a point to say that he is perfectly capable of doing what was done in New York. Does that mean he did it? Well that's something X-men fans have been bitching about on message boards for years. This scene won't end that debate anytime soon, but Kate isn't turned off. She knows Magneto is feared and he doesn't care about being loved. Her solution, he needs to be both loved and feared. It's devious, but that's PR. It's slightly less slimy than being a lobbyist for the tobacco companies.

AIM still ranks somewhat below tobacco lobbyists, but it's still very satisfying to the X-men kick the shit out of them. It takes all but two pages and in the process Namor utters what may be the most manliest words in the history of penises. "Only Namor has the ability to make the Earth move. And he reserves that privileged for one woman at a time." If Kieron Gillen's run ended with this issue, that line alone makes his Uncanny run a success. It's by far the greatest pick-up line since Bill Clinton uttered "Hey baby, your president has a special executive task and it's one I can't do with my pants on."

So once Namor emasculates the AIM agents, Emma finds out they never had an earthquake generator to begin with. They just new how to predict them better and bluffed that they could cause it. Assholes they may be, AIM are probably damn good poker players. So Emma starts warning everyone that an earthquake is coming. Kate hears this as well and suddenly she has to put off making Magneto less evil to the world. Whether he believes her methods or just really wants to bone her, Magneto decides to make a statement.

A statement by Magneto is usually like a fart from Galactus. It has a big fucking impact. So just as the Earthquake hits, Magneto uses his magnetic powers to support every structure with a metal bearing and use the rock in the Earth to smooth over the quake. It's the kind of feat that would make some women shit their pants and other women go into uncontrollable orgasmic fits over the sheer manliness of such a feat. It's not clear which Kate does, but her legs looked like they were shifting awkwardly so maybe Gillen was implying something. If nothing else, Magneto shows that he can tame a whole fucking planet and make it his bitch. Plus, he can save a lot of lives. It is a nice way to demonstrate Kate's philosophy of being both loved and feared.

So Magneto saves the day and returns to Kate, who looks like she just got a picture of Lady Gaga going down on Justin Bieber. By the time Magneto returns, Larry King has made a marriage proposal to Kate in exchange for an interview with Magneto. Being the badass man that he is, Magneto refuses them and entrusts Kate to handle his affairs. Now Magneto trusting someone, let alone a human, is quite a remarkable feat. That or once again he wants to bone her. So he has real power and she has the power of PR. It's like nitro and glycerine, except when they explode it rain chocolate. It's a nice way to tie up the issue and sets the stage for Magneto being a real celebrity. Guess that means it's only a matter of time before he plays a part in the next Kardashian sex tape.

Kieron Gillen's arrival in the X-books was clearly part of a much larger plan by Marvel. He's been warming up in the batter's box with Generation Hope. Now he's up at bat with this issue and while he didn't hit a grand slam, he certainly nailed a home run to the upper deck in a ways that Barry Bonds will likely hit him up for steroids later. This issue had a lot of what Matt Fraction's recent X-books lacked. It focused more heavily on characterization and tied that characterization in with solid action. Kieron Gillen's knack for dialog and giving characters a voice is a huge breath of fresh air the likes of which hasn't been seen since Joss Whedon was writing X-men. It's probably the most satisfying issue of Uncanny that you can read with your pants on in quite some times.

However, the whole Point One angle was somewhat muddled with this issue. If this book was supposed to be a real jumping on point, then it certainly fell short. If someone hasn't been keeping up with the X-men, reading this book won't help them catch up. If anything, it'll leave them with more questions. A lot has happened in the past five years of X-books. Hell, a lot has happened in the last three years of X-books. This issue doesn't make those events any clearer. It only makes Magneto's presence clearer and he only showed up just last year. This issue could have easily been a regular issue of Uncanny X-men and work perfectly well. In many ways that's what it should have been. But Marvel tried to squeeze this issue into the mix and while a good read, it doesn't really succeed with the whole Point One aspect.

Now I've read the other Point One books and they all have the same problem. They really aren't jumping on points. They're basically extra issues. That's all well and good, but if they're billed as books that can get readers up to speed then they need a little more refinement. Some need a lot more. Never-the-less, Uncanny X-men #534.1 is nothing if not a solid X-book. The art is good, the writing is superb, and the story is well-told. It's everything you want in an X-book. Kieron Gillen couldn't be off to a better start with his run. That's why I give this book a final score of 4.5 out of 5. The stage has been set for Gillen to take Uncanny to the next level. There's a lot he has to work with as events like Fear Itself unfold. He's proven himself thus far. He's more than earned both the fear and love of X-fans everywhere. Nuff said!


  1. Namor is quickly becoming a background character it seems which is fine by me because I don't care for him.

  2. I don't know. Given that he had a few memorable lines in this issue, I wouldn't call him a background character as much as someone like Kitty has been since she came back. I really like Namor. He's brought something new to the X-men. Plus, he's got great chemistry with Emma Frost. Matt Fraction never did squat with it. I hope Kieron Gillen takes it a step further.